Posted on February 14, 2005

Refugees’ Tales Heard by Powerful Audience of One

Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 14

WASHINGTON — After hearing graphic stories of suffering directly from persecuted young people who fled to the United States, President Bush intervened personally to sharply increase the number of refugees admitted to the country — undoing the severe limits placed on such admissions for security reasons after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The move to restore the world’s largest refugee assistance program, and the president’s role in it, has gone largely unnoticed amid recent squabbles in the Republican Party over related questions of post-Sept. 11 immigration and asylum policies.

But the details were visible in the thick budget proposal released by the White House last week. The State Department, the documents show, would aim to admit about 20,000 additional refugees next year — bringing the total admissions closer to the 70,000 level admitted in the years before the terrorist attacks.

In June, when Bush met with the young woman who fled Liberia, he also spoke with a 22-year-old college student from Sudan. Elijah Anyieth told the president about the seven years he spent in a refugee camp in Kenya — often with just an ear of corn a day to eat — and described his escape on foot from his warn-torn country after the death of his parents.

“He said, ‘Elijah, I’m glad to hear your story,’ ” recalled Anyieth, who said his mother was killed by militants in Sudan and his father died of cholera. Now a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, Anyieth found safety in the U.S. when Catholic Charities helped him settle in Richmond, Va.

“He said that my story shows why the American people like to help people’s lives,” Anyieth said. “From the moment he said that to me, I knew that he was going to do something.”